Miami HEAT at Toronto Raptors Game Preview

Dwyane Wade
Photo Credit: Ron Turenne

The Miami HEAT face the Toronto Raptors Sunday afternoon at Scotiabank Arena. Tip-off is set for 12:00 PM, and television coverage is on FOX Sports Sun. You can also listen to the action live on 790 The Ticket.

1: Was there anything instructive from Miami’s second-half struggles on offense in Minnesota?

Couper Moorhead: There wasn’t anything particularly special about what happened in the second half. The Timberwolves struggled mightily to stay in front of HEAT players and protect the paint before the break. They eventually locked in, but it’s a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario. Miami stopped moving the ball and the offense stagnated, but did they do that because the Wolves were suddenly playing better defense or did the Wolves start playing better defense because Miami stopped moving the ball? Whatever the cause, the HEAT posted an offensive rating of 87 in the second half, continuing a recent trend that’s seen their scoring fall off over the course of the game since All-Star.

At this point of the season, with just three games left to play, there isn’t much time left to identify cause and effect. The team is in whatever it takes mode and whether or not they know exactly why the offense has had such highs and lows, there isn’t really any practice time left to fix everything. The proverbial one game at a time approach has never been more true than it is right now, and that means doing what they need to do to survive. If that means the offense struggles in Toronto, then the defense will just have to be that much better.

Joe Beguiristain: Not necessarily.

After Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragić went nuts in the first half with a combined 35 points on 13-of-16 shooting and six assists, Minnesota ramped up its defensive pressure. And while that prohibited Miami for most of the second half, Dion Waiters and James Johnson did their best to keep the HEAT within striking distance. In particular, Waiters continued to space the floor with a game-high six made treys, while JJ made some key plays on both ends in the fourth.

We should also mention Bam Adebayo’s activity and defense against Karl-Anthony Towns for most of the night. Not only did he lead Miami with six box-outs and four steals, but he also racked up nine contested shots and three deflections.

Danny Green2: What have we learned from the matchups with Toronto this season?

Couper: We should start by noting that we don’t really know who is going to be playing for Toronto Sunday afternoon. With their win Thursday night the Milwaukee Bucks secured the No. 1 overall seed and that in turn locked the Raptors into the No. 2 spot in the East, but Toronto is still trying to secure home-court advantage in a potential Finals series over every team in the West and, as it stood Saturday night, appeared ready to play all of their guys. We’ll see.

The Raptors have certainly been a problem overall, just as they have for every team in the league. The HEAT have generally played them a little closer than they have recently against Milwaukee, with the post-Christmas game coming down to a final Danny Green shot, and Miami had scored reasonably well against Toronto until the last outing which was tilted by 21 made Raptors threes, but it’s been getting stops that has proved most difficult. Toronto’s deadly combination of attacking guards, skilled bigs and plenty of shooting all around makes it very tough to play zone against them and there’s no real direction they can tilt their defense since there are always capable scorers on the floor. Toronto is as tough a team to scheme for as there is in the league, which forces a HEAT team that typically prepares as well as any for their opponent often has to approach them in a fairly straight-up fashion. The pressure, then, falls on the individual defenders to be at their best and for everyone to be ready to cover up for everyone else, which starts with communication.

There are no secrets to beating Toronto. Barring outlier offensive performances, you have to expect to need your best to beat them.

Joe: Simply put, we’ve learned that the Raptors are a powerhouse in every sense of the word.

With strong two-way players across its roster, Toronto owns the third-best net rating in the league at plus-5.6. And while Kawhi Leonard and Kyle Lowry have done their thing against the HEAT this season, Pascal Siakam has also been a thorn in Miami’s side. Then again, that’s been the case for nearly every team since the calendar flipped to March, as Siakam is averaging 19.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 52.9 percent shooting from the field in his 17 games during that span.  

Perhaps Wade can mitigate Siakam’s scoring impact, given his strong play in two of the three previous matchups with the Raptors. After setting a franchise record with 35 points off the bench in Toronto on Nov. 25, the 37-year-old did all he could to keep Miami in its last meeting with the Raptors on March 10.

We’ll see what transpires this time around.

3: What does the playoff picture look like?

Couper: We know we’ve said this before, but even after losing three games in a row the HEAT still aren’t in as bad of shape as it might feel. They are still in position to get into the playoffs if they win their last three games against Toronto, Philadelphia and Brooklyn (the last two being a back-to-back). It’s no short task, to be sure, but the way things stand entering Sunday they control their own destiny and don’t need to rely on anyone else losing.

There is of course a flip side to this. With the Nets beating Milwaukee in a (Antetokounmpo-less) thriller Saturday night, the HEAT are also in position to be eliminated from the playoffs Sunday if they lose to Toronto and all three of Detroit (vs Charlotte), Orlando (at Boston) and Brooklyn (at Indiana) all win. So Miami both has every bit of say in their own fate but a very thing margin for error at the same time. Such is life in the playoff race.

Joe: As Coup mentioned above, the HEAT still control their own destiny despite some slippage of late.

However, Miami has to win Sunday in a raucous environment to uphold that. And at the end of the day, that's all you can focus on. If you start looking ahead to other games and worry about winning the next three rather than the one in front of you, then you'll put yourself at a major disadvantage.

Like Waiters said after Friday night's game, "If we play together, trust each other and most importantly...just have fun with it, knowing that every game matters is good. The pressure is on, but pressure makes diamonds also."

HEAT at Raptors Head To Head

Game Notes:

  • The HEAT have dropped the three previous games to the Raptors this season.
  • Miami has dropped three straight overall and is 38-41, while Toronto has won five of six and enters the contest at 56-24.
  • Dwyane Wade has scored in double-figures in 15 consecutive games off the bench, which is the second-longest streak in franchise history.
  • Kawhi Leonard leads the Raptors in points (26.8) and steals (1.8) per game.
  • Josh Richardson (Left Hip Strain) and Ryan Anderson (Personal Reasons) did not travel with the team and are out.

Efficiencies (Rank):

  • HEAT Offense: 106.9 (26)
  • HEAT Defense: 107.2 (7)
  • Raptors Offense: 112.5 (5)
  • Raptors Defense: 107.0 (6)

For live in-game updates of Sunday afternoon’s contest, follow @MiamiHEAT, @CoupNBA and @JoeBeguiristain on Twitter.

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